Ukrainian scholars share their insights on the war

31.3.2022
A Ukrainian perspective is essential to understanding Russia’s war in Ukraine. Both in international media and academic discussions, the current war is sometimes presented without giving proper agency to Ukrainians and ignoring their perspectives and visions for the future. Scholars of the Emotions, Populism and Polarisation Group (HEPP), the Aleksanteri Institute (University of Helsinki) and the Degree Programme of Politics (Tampere University) wanted to change this by establishing a lecture series that gives the floor to Ukrainian experts.

“I appreciate invitations to speak on international panels, such as this one, but all too often I feel as if we, the Ukrainian scholars are only invited as some sort of eyewitnesses, not as academics”, said Dr. Tymofii Brik, a sociology professor from the Kyiv School of Economics, who joined the opening event of the lecture series from his apartment in Kyiv.

Dr. Yulia Bidenko from Kharkiv National University shared the same experience: “Various think tanks and media ask us to talk about our feelings towards the crimes but seldom give space to our analyses and deeper insights of the situation”.

Dr. Bidenko assumes, that this is partly because Ukrainian scholarship is relatively unknown in the West. Whereas Russia has been able to support Russian scholars in joining international research networks, Ukrainian scholars do not have that many channels to get their voices heard. Together with the fact that very few Western scholars know Ukrainian well enough to follow Ukrainian sources, this means that a lot of information the West gets from Ukraine is filtered through Russian actors. The objectivity of those actors should not always be trusted.

Ukraine is a sovereign state with a surprisingly coherent society

Dr. Tatiana Zhurzhenko (ZOiS - Centre for East European and International Studies, Germany) tried  to rectify some of the false historical narratives and misconceptions that Putin used to legitimize Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine. According to the Russian president, “Ukraine is an artificial state created by Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks”, ”Russians and Ukrainians are one single people” and “Russian-speakers in Ukraine need to be saved from genocide commited by radical nationalists and Nazis”. The dissemination of such messages by Russian propaganda is a weapon in the hybrid war against Ukraine.

Dr. Zhurzhenko’s statement is backed by the polling data analysed by Dr. Bidenko: according to an August 2021 poll, 71% of Ukrainians were either very proud or rather proud of their Ukrainian identity – regardless of their ethnical or lingual belonging. Ukrainian society is diverse but coherent and the division between the western and eastern parts is not as significant as often portrayed. The Ukrainians themselves perceive the cohesion and resistance of Ukrainian society very high across the regions.

Civil Society as a factor of resilience

Ukrainian civil society has flourished under the Zelensky government. In the Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index (CSOSI), Ukraine has had one of the highest rankings in the region already before the war, thanks to the liberal legislation. The war has dramatically increased the willingness to participate in volunteer work even among those Ukrainians, who choose not to affiliate themselves with any specific organization.

According to Dr. Bidenko, cooperation between civil society and the authorities, military and law enforcement agencies is smooth. For example, civil society and activists help supply the army and territorial defense groups, deliver humanitarian help and arrange both internal and cross-border evacuation, assist the healthcare workers and efficiently clear the rubble and debris after the bombings. Dr. Bidenko brings to the fore also the work done by the civil society actors on the “informational frontline”: Ukraine is a highly digitized country, and the numerous civil society reporters have a big role in providing accurate information of the developments and in documenting the war crimes.

Optimism despite destruction

The Ukrainian people are determined to win the war. According to the polls presented by Dr. Bidenko, 93 % of Ukrainians are absolutely or rather confident about the victory. 77% of the recipients see that the country in general is going in the right direction. “We want to rebuild our democratic country,” says Dr. Brik “and we also want to lead by example and help preserve the democracy in the neighbouring countries by helping the civil societies of Russia and Belarus.”

The interdisciplinary series of lectures on Ukraine and from Ukraine will continue throughout spring. See the programme here!